Angus Fontaine opens Irvine Welsh’s Sex Lives of Siamese Twins talk with the following statement:
‘Just some housekeeping rules everyone. Please turn off your phones, mind your p’s and q’s, but no need to mind your f’s and c’s’.
This statement, to anyone ignorant of the character that is Irvine Welsh would seem like an amusing anecdote; but the packed house in the Sydney Theatre knows better. The mixture of sex, depravity, sado-machinism, drugs and murder are blended together and served with a heavy Scottish dialect with a partiality for foul and vulgar language. It comes as no surprise then that when Welsh first enters the stage to talk about his latest novel, Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, he proudly pronounces that he’s wearing a ‘strap on’ in a method style interview. A note for those who haven’t read the book or are not familiar with Welsh’s style: the book involves a lot of lesbian sex. In fact when Welsh called his 82 year old mother to ask if she liked the book, she replied “well written, but there’s too much lesbian sex”. Welsh’s reply: “what do you know about lesbian sex?”
Amusingly enough this is one of the few PG rated moments during his hour-long discussion with Fontaine.
The two obviously have a history together. In fact, rewind 17 years and both were drunk on Town Hall stage singing along to Gold Finger. Alas their adventure ended in tears, with Fontaine at the coppers and Welsh passed out.
Irvin Welsh is not your typical writer, so it can be no surprise that this is not your typical interview. His partiality for dirty language and grim milieus does not make his books easy reading for everyone. Trying to penetrate his thick Scottish dialect is another challenge. During his hour long I managed to understand probably only 50% of what he was saying.
When Welsh got up to read a chapter from his novel he was barely comprehensible, but despite this challenge the audience remained enthralled. We were battered with ‘cunt’ ‘fuck’ ‘pussy’ ‘fanny’ and other such profanities but Welsh’s humour and ability to depict the rawness and failure of the human condition remains unparalleled.
“My thematic concern is to know how people fuck up,” he says. “Failure interests me, success is boring”. Welsh’s ability to depict the staleness and failure of the human race is because he is a “glorious failure”.
His series of ‘fuck ups’ have resulted in a near 6 death experiences.
- An acid party in London where he fell down the stairs
- An acid party in Chicago with similar consequences
- Nearly drowning in a Hollywood pool and being saved by a vodka promotion girl
- Bus crash
And two other events, which were lightly skimmed over.
Welsh exclaims that “everything I did before I became a writer I failed at. Now I couldn’t do anything else but writing. I wouldn’t even be able to clean out a public shithouse’.
Good to hear Welsh, if it is any consolation I know of very few writers who could depict the raw Scot dialect and brutality of street life as you could, so maybe it is a good thing for us that you couldn’t possibly clean that shithouse.
Authors Note: I attended the Sydney Writers Festival in 2014, where Welsh previewed his 2014 novel The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins.